A Closer Look at Findings from the Federal Investigation Into PGCPS’s Head Start Program

by Genevieve Demos Kelley and Amy Alford

Federal funding has been withdrawn from the Prince George’s County Public Schools Head Start program, after PGCPS failed to correct problems identified in a federal investigation conducted in February. The school system has been cited for failing to “report instances of child abuse and neglect to Federal, State, and local authorities as required by applicable laws; therefore, putting children at significant risk for mistreatment and abuse’ (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 4).

The federal Office of Head Start sent a letter to Board of Education Chair Segun Eubanks, outlining findings that point to failure failure at several levels of organization within the school system.

Failure to Report Use of Humiliation as Punishment

  • On December 17, 2015, a teacher at H. Winship Wheatley Early Childhood Center forced a 3-year-old child to mop up his own urine, while still wearing his wet clothing. The teacher used her personal cell phone to take photos of the child, and sent them to the child’s mother, including the text abbreviation “LOL,” along with a description of the incident.
  • The child’s parent was upset about the matter and on December 22, she spoke to the Family Services Worker (FSW), a PGCPS employee assigned to family-based case management. The FSW “likely discouraged the parent from making a report at the time, as she told the parent she would have to report it as a mandatory reporter” (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 3).
  • Several weeks later, on January 12, the parent did make a report to the FSW. However, there is no record that the FSW immediately reported the incident to the Maryland Department of Human Resources Child Protective Services (CPS). Maryland law requires that educators make an immediate report of suspected abuse by telephone, and a written report within 48 hours of the telephone contact.
  • The Regional Office of Head Start learned of the incident when the child’s parent notified the office, via telephone, on February 5.
  • The Program Supervisor of PGCPS’s Head Start program did provide some documentation, including a timeline, to the Regional Office of Head Start on February 10. However, PGCPS refused to provide additional documentation after multiple requests were made. This “limit[ed] the Administration for Children and Family’s ability to perform its oversight responsibilities to ensure Federal requirements were met and children were provided safe and secure environments” (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 4)
  • Though the child was forced to mop his urine in an open area of the classroom, two assistant teachers claimed that they did not witness the incident.

Failure to Ensure Teachers Maintained Confidentiality

  • It was reported that teachers in the Head Start Program and regular volunteers in the school system took inappropriate photographs of children (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 5).
  • The Regional Office requested that PGCPS provide its policies and procedures regarding taking photographs of children in the Head Start program. PGCPS refused.

Failure to Ensure that Teachers Use Positive Methods of Discipline

  • On June 9, 2016, two children in the Head Start Program at James Ryder Randall Elementary School were forced by a teacher and an assistant teacher to stand in the classroom holding objects above their heads. According to the report, “The first child was crying and calling the teacher’s name, and the teacher yelled at the child and instructed her to continue holding the object. The second child accidentally dropped the object and was also yelled at and instructed to continue to hold the object (see”Overview of Findings,” p. 7).

Failure to Ensure that No Child is Left Unsupervised

  • On June 9, 2016, a five-year-old child walked home after being left unsupervised during school hours. The child had been released from the nurse’s office and told to return to her classroom, but the class was at the playground. Not being able to find her class, the child returned to the nurse’s office and was unable to open the door. She left the building and walked home (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 8).
  • This incident was reported to the Regional Office on the same day by the PGCPS Head Start Director.

Read more:

Read the entire letter from the Office of Head Start to Board Chair Segun Eubanks, as well as the enclosed report, below.

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When Teachers Hit Children: One PGCPS Parent’s Experience

Alana Cole-Faber, a parent with children in PGCPS, has shared her story here, with the hope that any other parents who have had similar experiences will come forward and work for positive change. You may contact Ms. Cole-Faber at pgparentscircle@gmail.com

by Alana Cole-Faber

In August of 2014, my children began school at Dora Kennedy French Immersion School (formerly Robert Goddard), one of PGCPS’s Specialty Schools. Having completed a successful year of preschool, our children were so excited to finally be attending “real school” with the big kids. We felt incredibly fortunate that we had won the lottery and that our children would have the privilege of attending a National Blue Ribbon school. We have moved a lot as a family, and as parents we were looking forward to settling down in Prince George’s County and getting to know our new community, the teachers, parents, and the school system in general. Instead, we have spent a large portion of the last year dealing with an appalling problem.

In October 2014, our children came home and told us that my son had been spanked at Dora Kennedy French Immersion School. We were stunned. We immediately separated and interviewed our children to find out what had happened and to be sure all of the details of their stories matched up. The children told us that my son had been jumping up and down while the class was singing, so the teacher asked the class to tell her which child had misbehaved and deserved to be punished. The majority of students pointed to my son, so he was called to the front of the class and struck until he cried. I asked my daughter if she thought our son had been hit hard, and my daughter said, “The teacher hit him hard, but she hits another boy even harder.”

My children then went on to name three other children who had been struck by their teacher during the year. (Corporal punishment is illegal in public schools in Maryland. Even so, it is worth noting that we had never received so much as a note home from this teacher to say that our son had misbehaved in class.)

The next morning, we went to the school to report the abuse. We spoke to a supervisory staff member at the school first. The supervisor listened to our story, then left to remove the teacher from the classroom and sent in a security officer to take our written statement. It was explained to us that any time there are allegations of abuse or harassment, a written report is sent to the county for investigation. It was also explained to us that this teacher would not be left alone with students during the investigation. We wrote a written report, including the names of the other children who had been struck. We also asked that our children be moved to other classrooms, just in case the teacher were allowed to return to the classroom following the investigation.

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